Monday, May 31, 2010

Dez Intranetz is Fast

Finally got some internet in my apartment over the weekend. Its well... internet in Japan. I'll let you judge how fast the bandwidth is...

I better go buy a few terabytes to fill up with these speeds, yikes. In comparison the last internet I had was 25 down, and 8 or so up. How bout that.

Well the modem got delivered on Saturday morning, the same time the internet company was supposed to come install it. Only, they never came to install it. Fortunately, this is one of those moments where I'm really glad I majored and work in an IT field. Since no one came to set the thing up, I went ahead and did it myself. Still, I can't believe they didn't even call. Usually when someone comes they call 10 min before they even get there.

Something's kind of weird with the internet yet though. Some pages load fine, others sit there churning and never load. My ps3 can also get online, but it times out when trying to log into Playstation Network. I thought it might be my ISP's DNS, or some other setting where they're blocking certain ports, but when I hooked the PS3 directly to the modem, it worked fine. But I'm not sure how it could be my router since its a pretty nice one (D-Link DIR-655) I got 6 months ago and I've used it with my PS3 ever since I got it. So I opened up all the ports for PSN and that didn't work so I put the PS3 on DMZ, but still no. I also tried disabling the SPI, QoS, and WISH; as well as loosening up the NAT endpoint filtering, and it still didn't work. I set the PS3 DNS to the one from my ISP, but still no. My internet is VDSL and with a PPPoE connection though, so maybe my router doesn't like that? PPPoE's are kinda... yuck. You following all this? Good. Cause I'm open to suggestions :)

Figured out my internet problems, see next post.

And now for something completely different. I found this at the supermarket yesterday. Pepsi Baobab.

Apparently this is a cola they created using the Baobab Tree thats native to Africa as a motif. Ok, sure whatever.

It's actually... pretty good. I think I might have another the next time I stop at the supermarket. Except I'm not sure about the whole Baobab tree part, unless its related to giner somehow, cause this is basically Ginger Ale. Still, its really good though. Much better than Chocolate Sparkling.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A little bit of random...

Alright, well here's a few things I've run across over the past couple week's I've gotta share...

First off, I ran across this guy in Shinjuku when I was with Kana a couple weekends ago. Notice anything unusual about it? Hmm... that Indian flat bread looks good, especially that hot dog... well actually I think I'll go for some Hot Sand. Yea.

Ok to be fair there's a reason for them selling warm granular minerals. In Japanese the word for sandwich (sandowicchi - サンドウィッチ) is shorted to sand (sando - サンド). And then its kinda cool/fashionable for it to be written in English, so we get "Sand" :)

Ok, I've seen this little van parked on the side of the road a couple times on my way to work already. Theres no other strange marking or stickers or anything on this vehicle, except for this spray painting of a skeleton pointing to the gas cap, saying "Regular Only." Awesome.

This particular vending machine happened to be on my way to work when I was still living in Ebina, but I'm sure they're plenty of others around the country. Anyways, I couldn't help myself when I saw it say "SUNTORY BOSS is the BOSS of them all!!

On a side note, have seen any of the Tommy Lee Jones commercials for Boss Coffee? The setting is that aliens have come to Earth and are investigating the human population (Japan) disguising themselves as characters they'd seen in the movies. Pure gold.

And finally, Chocolate Sparkling!

New combination of soda & chocolate flavor! Umm... yea, its basically like someone took some water, dissolved some chocolate powder in it, and injected some carbonation. Its... terrible... sorry. Although I have to say the Ice Cucumber Pepsi I had at the end of my study abroad 3 years ago was actually quite tasty! I wish I could find it again...

Monday, May 24, 2010

Oh, Yama? (and Utunomiya)

Alright, have a good weekend, gotta catch a train.

Where you goin?



Yup, c'ya!

Perhaps this slightly altered version will make more sense.

Alright, have a good weekend, gotta catch a train.

Where you goin?


North Dakota!?!?

Yup, c'ya!

Ok, well in terms of time it only takes 2 1/2 hours to get to Oyama (in the Tochigi Prefecture), but in terms of prefectures (kind of like states) its Kanagawa > Tokyo > Saitama > Tochigi, so it feels quite far. The trains are just too amazing that it doesn't take very long to get there. That said, its pretty countryside (a lot more than Ebina), so that was quite interesting.

Anyways, since well... there's not much to do in Oyama, we went even further down the line to Utsunomiya, the largest city in Tochigi. By the way Oyama is the second largest... yea. So I guess that means there's less foreigners and I stick out even more but I didn't really feel it much.

Not too far from Utsunomiya station is really old building called Kyu-Shinohara-ke Jutaku (旧篠原家住宅). Which basically translates to "The former residence of the Shinohara family" if I'm reading it correctly. This place is back from the Meiji period (built 1895), so its over 100 years old.

Being quite dated, it was also very Japanese so I really enjoyed it. As much as I like having fun in Japan (izakaya, karaoke, parties, etc), I really enjoy all the traditional Japanese stuff as well. For instance when I studied abroad I tagged along with a bunch of friends to a club on New Years, and as much fun as that was, I was really looking forward to the Hatsumode tradition (the first visit to the shrine on the new year).

Anyways, supposedly the family that owned this property used to make soy sauce and other goods that they sold in that very building. It actually used to be a much larger estate with other buildings and such, but they were unfortunately destroyed by bombing back in WWII. This sadly seems to be a frequent occurrence with a lot of old sites I've visited over the years (especially with castles).

I find myself somewhat torn with this however. I'm of course saddened and extremely disappointed at the loss of all these historic buildings. It would have been so cool to see more of the originals. But at the same time I'm American, so I feel somewhat sorry and also not sorry? Basically in the back of my head it feels kind of like -

"Oh wow, there used to be more, what happened to it?"
"It was destroyed by fire bombing in the war"
"Oh... geeze, well uhh... unnngggggg"

I don't really run into any prejudice (except for that one old dude who talked to me for a couple hours 3 years ago about how much he hates the atom bomb). So its never really been an issue, but there are those awkward moments. Oh and by the way, all those clothes in the pictures where I guess previously made by that family, and they were having a vote to see which people like the most?

Well after that residence, we walked to this park where the old castle was. It was actually a pretty good distance from the station. I guess Tochigi is really setup more for cars, cause some of the main parts of town were a good 10-20 min walk from the station, not surrounded the station, which was interesting. Definitely gives you a little bit more of a countryside feeling.

Supposedly we were told that a festival was going on, but I guess we missed it or something? There were tents and booths setup all over the place, but all the chairs and tables were neatly folded and packed up. Either they just finished the night before, or were starting that very night.

Utsunomiya is famous for gyoza (pot stickers?) so we naturally had to have gyoza for dinner. We went to a rather famous place called Min Min, but there was another place next door I'd like to go to next time. Min Min was delicious, but this other place had several different varieties of gyoza which I'd love to try out.

And finally we ended the evening with some good ol karaoke in Oyama. The karaoke place we found is supposedly an older style of karaoke. We weren't sure about it, but thought it was at least worth a shot. Well we asked them what the 2 hours free special was they had going on. They said it was for members (300 yen to become a member). Then we asked if we had to stay for 3 hours in order to get 2 hours free... nope. If you become a member (300 yen) and buy 1 drink each (400 yen) you can have 2 free hours of karaoke........ wow. I guess thats the country side for you, yeesh.

Alright that's enough for now, I've got a variety of random things I've been running across and couldn't help but snap a shot of that I'm planning on posting later. Until then!

Monday, May 17, 2010

What a Day - New Apartment!

**Wrote this on Saturday, but posting quick at work where I have internet access.**

Pictures here

Man what a day, I'm exhausted. I was up most of last night packing, and then spent today moving in. The movers came at 9, and as soon as they loaded everything up, I ran over to the new apartment in Hon Atsugi to meet the guy who turned my gas on (so I can you know, cook and have hot water). In the meantime the movers stopped by Proto Labs, dropping off and picking up some more stuff. Then they swung by my new place here and dropped everything off, and I finally got to really unpack.

By the way, I'm eternally grateful to the previous residents of the Ebina apartment (Brian, and later Damian). I've inherited most all of the furnishings and other daily necessities, so theres very very little I actually need to go out and buy. This takes a huge load off as I don't need to worry about that stuff. So thank you Brian and Damian! (Although maybe all this stuff is technically Proto Labs? haha)

Well I'm proud to say I'm no longer living out of my suitcases! What a mysteriously relaxing feeling. I don't have a dresser or anything yet, so a bunch of my clothes are still on the floor, but most importantly they're not in a suitcase. In fact, I was even able to unpack some keepsakes and such, including my diploma (yea I brought it with, heh.)

Taking my diploma out, I couldn't help but look it over and I noticed something interesting - the date. May 16th, 2009... It's been one whole year since I've graduated from college. Where did that year run off to? And who would have known one year from then I would be moving into my own apartment in Japan. It's been quite the roller coaster ride getting here, but I'm happy to say I think I'm reaching cruising altitude. Boy have I ever been blessed!

I also noticed one other mysterious piece of reality today. My current living situation is open ended, as in there is no set end date for the next thing yet. I can't even remember the last time I've been in this situation. In fact the more I think about it, I don't know if I've ever been in this situation before. High school is 4 year until I go on to college, college took me 5 years during which I lived in 6 different places. When I studied abroad in Tokyo I had a 1 year time limit. When I got back I had a 2 year time limit till I graduated. And when I finally landed a job at Proto Labs, I had a 6 month time limit until I shipped off to Japan. Even when I got here I had until May 17th (Monday) to find a new place.

But now... there is no time limit. Well my contract with the apartment is only for 2 years, but I can extend that (or move elsewhere). Also my work visa (which by the way is Status: Engineer - that is so cool) only lasts 3 years, but I can and probably will extend that time period, and maybe eventually even apply for permanent residence if I'm still here after 5 years or so. By the way, I don't have any plans to apply for Japanese citizenship as the Japanese government doesn't allow dual citizenship beyond age 20. What that means is for those born to international couples, they have until age 20 to chose which citizenship to keep.

Anyways, I'm really excited to have my very own place to come home to. Now things can finally settle down and get into a rhythm.

Looking in from the balcony.

Looking out from the balcony

Finally, home sweet home.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Snoopy in Shinjuku!

Last weekend I went to Ikebukuro and Shinjuku with Kana again. If you haven't noticed yet, this year is the 60th anniversary of Peanuts (the Charlie Brown kind, not the legume). As such I've been noticing a number of different snoopy merchandise and advertising around town. But hey thats cool, I like Snoopy, who doesn't? Kana's pretty into Snoopy at the moment as well. They're even doing a Snoopy Town in Harajuku that Kana and I went to the last time I was here in February.

Well as luck would have it, there just happened to be a big 60th anniversary exhibit running at the department store in Shinjuku station. We couldn't resist. The exhibit basically introduced and explained all the characters (all in Japanese mind you), as well as showed how the comic changed over the years. They also had some memorabilia and other possessions from Charles Schultz. My favorite was an exhibit on all the different characters Snoopy plays - from the Red Baron to Joe Cool and Sherlock Holmes.

One thing I remember about the last time I was in Snoopy Town in Harajuku is the DVD they had running. I remember the (Japanese) voices sounding uncannily similar to their English counter parts. I was tempted to by a DVD at the Peanuts exhibit in Shinjuku, but they didn't have the Christmas one. So I bought a bilingual Peanuts book instead. Also, looks like I can get my Japanese Peanuts fix on YouTube (better download these videos before they're gone!)

Also, while we were walking around town, shopping and such, I ran across more of my favorite - Engrish!!

...and then I ran across this. I love Japan.

Well currently I'm finishing up packing to move out to my new apartment across the river in Hon Atsugi tomorrow morning. Updates coming (I promise)

Friday, May 07, 2010

To Niigata and Back Again

**Warning, this post's a doosey. Feel free to skim :D Also all Niigata pictures here.

In the wee early hours on Monday morning Ishikawa-san and family stopped by my apartment to pick me up. We started in the middle of the night to avoid the insanity that is Golden Week traffic. So around 12:30 am we filled up with gas and headed North for Niigata.

It is always an interesting experience to sit in the passenger seat (left side mind you), but this time I got a front row view of Japanese freeways expensive-ways. Once you are on the highway you're really detached from all the other road systems, because, well it's basically a toll way. There are parking and rest stops on the way, but these babies are rest stops on steroids. Convenience store, restaurant, concessions, and all the vending machines you would ever hope for. The tunnels are quite amazing as well. It makes sense that there are plenty of tunnels seeing as though we're crossing a mountain range, but a 12km long tunnel was reaaally long. Anyways, after 350 km and 6 or so hours we finally made it.

We pulled into Ishikawa-san's friend Takashi-san's place in Niigata around 6:30, 7am, and his friend was nice enough to have fresh home made bread as well as beds (futon) waiting for us. So before we headed out for anything that day, we all got a bit of rest. They even had a futon for me in my own room, with extra blankets and such to accommodate for my freakish height if necessary. Seriously, I never cease to get done in by Japanese generosity.

So after a short break, we headed out to take a gander at the Sea of Japan (Niigata is on the north coast of Japan). The sea was really beautiful, and I'm still trying to stitch together a good panorama of the pictures I took.

After that we headed over to the supermarket to buy everything for a barbecue back at Takashi-san's with a couple more friends from the area. Yes, I did just do a barbecue two days prior. Didn't you know Japanese people barbecue at least 2-3 times a week mandatory??? (jk) Once again our Japanese barbecue seemed to outdo any American one in variety. Pork, Beef, Sausage, Shrimp, Clam, Mackerel, Onions, Asparagus, Mushrooms, Octopus, Kimchi... yum.

And then after the barbecue... Karaoke!! What you say? I could have barbecue'd and gone to Karaoke back home in Ebina?? Pish posh, I'm in Niigata. Its a nice place but ended up being more inaka (countryside) than I thought so... we hung out with friends.

The next day we got around to some more serious sightseeing. This time we came to downtown Niigata and went straight to my favorite - an observation deck. And this guy was even free! I love the view of the city down below, and I got some pretty cool shots, but unfortunately it was rather cloudy out, so we couldn't see Sado Island out in the distance. Oh well, maybe next time.

Nearby the tower we went to was an interesting fish market. They had fresh salmon, crab, clam, whale (never seen whale meat before), and other fish and such. Basically anything you could ever want and I'm too American BEEF AND PORK AND CHICKEN to know whats good among all this stuff. So I took some pictures.

Outside of this building they were cooking fish and other clams/muscles and such that you could buy for (apparently) rather cheap. We tried some and it was pretty good, but to no surprise my AMERICAN MEAT acquainted tongue had some difficulty adapting. One of these days I'll get there.

Next we had some Niigata Ramen. I got a giant bowl of Miso Cha Shu Ramen (Miso flavored ramen with pork). I don't know if it was because I had a larger bowl or what, but all the Japanese people I was with finished their ramen in half the time it took me to finish mine. Yeesh. Apparently I need to brush up on my ramen eating skills (I've got the slurping down already though).

After this we did some sightseeing in a nearby park and I found some Sakura (cherry blossoms) blooming, which I was pretty excited about. I got to Japan about a month ago now right when all the sakura finished blooming, so I missed out. We also found this interesting western style historical city hall type building. They main meeting room was open with no signs for "Don't Touch" or "Stay Off" so we had plenty of fun.

Finally we stopped at a Senbei (Rice Cracker) factory, got a few souvenirs, tried a few interestingly flavored rice crackers, and even got to cook some of our own. On the way home we stopped at a Batting Cage and took a few swings. (Yes, I went to Niigata and went to a batting cage. It was fun.) And that night we went to a local Izakaya (Japanese bar/restaurant) that's owned by a friend of Takashi-san (who by the way did I mention he looks like a Japanese Tom Hanks?). Then we got a few hours sleep for our 4:30 am start to head back.

As tough as it was to once again drive in the wee hours of the morning with little sleep, the plan was a booming success. We didn't run into any golden week traffic at all since the peak of the traffic is around 10am, and we go back to Kanagawa around 9, 9:30. In fact, we had some extra time to spare so we stopped at... COSTCO!! Yes there is a Costo in Japan, and it's surprisingly similar to the Costos (and Sams) in the US. They even had your super cheap hot dogs and pizza slices. And the hot dogs were large 100% pork dogs, and the pizza was real American-style pizza. They even had barbecue chicken pizza!!! And they had a giant bottle of barbecue sauce!!!!! What an amazing place. I must go back... (drool)

Oh yes, Niigata. Boy I had a really great time. When I first got to Japan a month or so ago I went straight to work so it hadn't really hit me that I was really here. Now that I got a pretty good amount of free time and was able to do some vacationing, its really starting to sync in. It was really fun spending time with Ishikawa-san's family too. Kotoko and Taichi (his younger two kids) were plenty cute a lot of fun as well.

I can't thank Ishikawa-san and family enough for letting me tag along. Doing something like that is a feat I wouldn't be able to do myself. Sure I could visit Niigata, but I'd probably be staying in a hotel, and doing the pure tourist thing. Even though Niigata was a bit more countryside than I expected, it was really nice to stay with a local family and take in a more authentic experience.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Niigata Pictures Quick

Niigata was really fun. We were surprisingly even able avoid the insane golden week rush hour traffic altogether as well. I feel bad for taking forever to post some details, but I'm working on it.

For now, here's all the pictures that will soon have meaning.

Oh and remember those close ups and candids of those people are the people I was with. I wasn't like, you know, stalking some random people or anything >.>

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Golden Week GO!

Its golden week in Japan, and the entire country has taken off work. For those unaware, golden week is basically a string of holidays that happen to fall within a week of each other. This year they happened to fall around a weekend, so we got a nice 5 day weekend, plus the Thursday before off. Too bad we couldn't have gotten Friday off too and pushed it into a week long... weekend. Yea that's my kind of weekend. We need more of those.

Anyways, as I've been busy finding an apartment for the last few weeks, I didn't really have any time to make plans. By a stroke of luck though, my GW filled up at the last minute. Here's how it's going...

Thursday - Enoshima w/Kana
Saturday - BBQ w/Ishikawa-san, family, and friends
Mon-Wed - Trip to Niigata w/Ishikawa-san and family

So first off, on Thursday I went to Enoshima with Kana. Enoshima is a kind of special place to me, as it was one of the first areas I visited the first time I came to Japan. A friend of mine who studied abroad at my high school lives in Fujisawa (just south of Ebina, and Enoshima is just off the coast of Fujisawa), and I stayed with her family for a week 5 or 6 years ago over New Years.

Unbeknown to me at the time, New Years is one of the biggest and most important holidays in the Japanese calendar. One of the activities you do on the first day of the new year is hatsumode, the first visit to a shrine where you can register your family and such. On Enoshima (an island btw) there is one large shrine where we went for hatsumode. Then when I studied abroad 2 years later I made the same 'pilgrimage' back to Enoshima Jinja (the shrine on Enoshima) on New Years Day. So its kind of special.

Of the times I'd been to Enoshima before however, I didn't quite have as much freedom to really explore. This time Kana and I spent practically the entire day there, so I was really able to take in the whole island, from the shops at the base and up into the narrow, steep streets and paths up the island, to the lighthouse, observation deck, and all the way to the protruding seaside walkway and caves on the other side of the island. We were even fortunate enough to have a window seat overlooking the ocean in the restaurant we ate lunch at. As much as I loved this place before, I think I've fallen in love with it even more. It was bigger and had more fun places to visit than I remembered. I just never remembered it being so windy though...

Unfortunately I'll have to hold off on the pictures for now as they're still on Kana's camera. The map above should at least give you an idea of where things are (I translated the important stuff). And here's a google maps link to give you an idea of where everything is around here.

Well then on Saturday (yesterday), Ishikawa-san was nice enough to invite me to a barbecue that he was having with a couple friends and his two younger kids next to a nearby river. We met at Shake station and biked from there to the river. Man it was a beautiful day. I think I got a little sunburned.

Japanese BBQ can sure give American BBQs a run for their money though! Wow it was delicious. We had clam, octopus, pork, fish, bamboo shoots, salmon, cabbage, sausages, yakisoba (lo mein), kimchi bean sprouts, snacks and beer and such. It started to make me think American BBQs are boring since its basically brats or burgers, and the occasional ribs, haha. Sometime I'll have to do American brats and burgers for them if I ever get the chance. I'm sure I can find the ground beef, but I'm not sure about the brats...

More pictures of the BBQ here.

And finally, as nice as Ishikawa-san was for inviting me to their BBQ, he outdid his generosity by further inviting me to come along with him to Niigata!! He even called ahead to his friend that they're going to stay with to make sure it was fine if some weird super tall foreigner tagged along. I keep getting done in by the generous Japanese culture, haha.

We're going to try and get a head start on traffic, as GW is unbelievably insane as far as it comes to traffic, so its a midnight start for us tonight. I've got everything packed and ready to go, so once Ishikawa-san comes to pick me up, we're off. This time I'll be bringing my own camera (I bought some batteries finally) so I'll be sure to give updates and post some pictures.

Hopefully the traffic won't be too bad...